Drakensang is a lost gem. Back when the world was lamenting the lack of Baldur’s Gate-a-likes, Drakensang slipped out without much fanfare; I picked it up on a whim seeing it on the shelf in Game (remember when Game had PC shelves? Good times). Based on The Dark Eye system rather than Dungeons & Dragons, it nevertheless promotes the same ideals: a player-created character leads a tight-knit strike team as they vanquish evil in real-time-with-pause combat based on a tabletop system.
a.k.a. The Constipated Mathemagician
Drakensang: The River of Time made me do something very strange a couple of days ago. Something I haven’t done for a game in… well, a long long time.
The game presented presented me with a very particular kind of challenge. A mathematical challenge: given a set of items, the game asked that I split them up into four boxes according to a small suite of rules.
The challenge was not such a difficult one, but there were far too many numbers for me to handle it alone. I sat back, picked up a propelling pencil, and started working it out… On paper.
a.k.a. Drakensang: I Am Still Not Disappoint
So I was pretty stoked when I heard they were making a follow-up (a prequel), and that it was described as “more of the same”. What could possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately, developer Radon Labs died and were bought by an MMO developer. While Drakensang: The River of Time did appear to get an international release, it apparently slipped out some time in January without me being any the wiser — I was under the impression that a real box edition never made it to UK retail before the company went bankrupt. Then again, it probably didn’t make it to UK retail, because I only found it when I tripped over it on Amazon t’other day.
Like my last internet purchase (Elegant Machinery’s amazing A Soft Exchange), it arrived in excellent time (so it probably was on UK soil in a warehouse… somewhere). And, like its predecessor, it is bloody gorgeous.
- Drakensang: The River of Time is coming.
- Microsoft killed Unreal II (and others?) by stripping out DirectMusic.
- Soft Cell’s (only famous) album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
Dragon Age: Origins is a glorious amalgamation of every RPG I’ve ever played. I mean, really — all of them.
The last time I impulse-bought an RPG, it was a dreadful hack ‘n’ slash called Loki. It was accompanied by Tomb Raider: the Angel of Darkness and Sonic Heroes, maybe you remember?
I’m kind of grinding to a halt in terms of games these days, because I’ve seen nary a one that I actually want to buy. They’re all £35+ if they’re next-gen (stfu, Jack), and I really can’t be bothered paying that kind of money for a game that will almost certainly be all normal mapping and no balls.
But then Kilbirnie and I were in town on Saturday (before I went to Jack’s house and royally demolished/got demolished by his arse at Mortal Kombat 3) and he was all “want to buy Mass Effect for the PC, it’s in two-for-twenty-five, pick a game Rob-nuts”.
So after scouring the very small PC section (that moves every time I go to that shop), I settled on Drakensang…
It’s apparently based on a pen ‘n’ paper system ripped off DnD but more arbitrarily complex, that I have never heard of in my life before. Anyway, that probably gives it a shittonne more interest than a bloom-based next-gen sci-fi shooter.
It is a strange mix of Morrowind, Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights and probably a lot more. It’s got the billions of ingredient items of Morrowind, it’s got the pausable combat and small party of Baldur’s Gate, and the character-lock camera and keyboard movement of Neverwinter Nights.
While it is a next-gen game (apparently only released last year in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and just in February everywhere else), they have chosen to go for an ever-so-slightly stylised look instead of relentless hyper-realism; though certain metallic surfaces do suffer from a blinding glow of bloom. It also suffers from those fuck-damned billboarded trees — the effect might be delicious from a distance, but when you walk past a bush and see large segments of it rotating to follow… Sorry guys.
As a fantasy RPG, all women are of course scantily clad, while all men are fully clothed. The outside world is gloriously sunny all the time, which is probably why I’ve never even remotely heard a single word about this game before — it’s clearly not dark enough for today’s taste. Real life is brown, etc etc etc. Hell, there don’t seem to be particularly many options for being evil (beyond pickpocketing, which has no negative effects except that you are unable to re-pick the same person), which I actually find rather refreshing. I’d rather a long and deep ‘good’ story than a lot of non-linearity I don’t care to explore because the world is full of emos.
So far, yes, it’s no Baldur’s Gate, but neither has it been a disaster like most of my recent game acquisitions. Diverting, pleasant, relaxing. So far, at any rate. The world map looks big enough that there should be plenty of geoegraphy to cover, and that hopefully means a long story. Length is good, because I doubt I’ll be so induced again to buy something until Mass Effect 2 pops out in a few months (and fuck knows when Starcraft II will raise its beautiful editor over the parapets).
So, stay tuned, I will probably relate more of this game as I progress through the story. But it’s looking favourable so far.
Some of you might have noticed that I’ve hardly been on the internets in the last week, during my usual evening slot. This is because Drakensang is fucking awesome. It has very much captured my heart…
I don’t even know where to begin.
We’ll start with just how soft it is. You can’t really imagine just how smooth it is when every menu fades in and out, the screen fades to black before fading in to the loading screen… The main menu screen is of a tranquil farmstead, and as mentioned last week, the weather is always bright and deliciously sunny. But when you walk into a heavily forested area (or under a particularly large archway), the light fades down (fades down) to match the ambience. I’d say that does more for the game than normal mapping ever could.
It’s also full of slick little cinematics. Sometimes you’ll walk into somewhere, and they’ll set it up by fun camera angles and nice character animations; and other times, you’ll see the silhouette of a dragon climbing up the side of a ruined castle and then flying off. Yes, today was particularly nice — I had to fight up to a rather high castle along a walkway above the aforementioned forest, to spectacular views once I escaped from the initial walls. That’s one thing I really do love about the next-gen — long draw distances. While older games like Unreal and Jedi Knight II did treat us to some amazing vistas with the power available at the time, the power of games like this blows them right out of the water.
I keep making a complete mess of combat, though. When I get to fighting a big bad boss, I tend to concentrate all my fire on the boss himself; you know, he’s usually the guy that can rape you dead in two hits so you tend to want to flatten him as soon as you can.
Alas, like Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, this is completely the wrong thing to do. It turns out that it really is the henchmen that do all the damage — any way you look at it, four versus one is a lot better than four versus six or eight, especially when five or seven of them can be dispatched with relative ease.
Characters luckily don’t have a tendancy to die. When their hit points reach zero, or they receive more than four ‘wounds’, they’ll drop and lie there. Once the combat is over, they’ll stand up and you can repair them with bandages and let them regenerate all their health. Unless all four of you die, in which case, it’s game over.
My party is extremely combat-orientated, because the advertised dialogue system (“Threaten, persuade and charm your enemies with a dramatic talent-based dialogue system“) is not quite as bad-ass as the box suggests. It’s one of these, if you have in your party somebody that has a particular dialogue talent, you get a combat option and it rolls to see if you pass. I seem to have sunk enough points into that selection of talents, because I only failed once and it was an intimidation check (clearly Axebeard McBeardaxe the Dorf is not intimidating enough, even though he’s always the last one standing in a tough fight and has a fucking giant mace in his hands these days).
There is one sweet little twist, though. With enough points in the “human nature” skill, you can get shady people to reveal that they are indeed shady. So it’s not really a talent check, it’s just a way to scythe into the heart of the matter and get a bigger scoop.
I tend to concentrate on seduce or fast-talk, which my pet thief-mage chick handles wonderfully. Yes, yes, laugh it up — I have long expounded the horrors of the dual-classed thief-mage that so plagued Baldur’s Gate II, and how they totally ruin the game and why can’t I have one good thief and one good mage instead of two shite thief-mages? Once again, Drakensang chooses to follow Morrowind and makes characters an arbitrary collection of skills, which you can unlock by buying and then fill with as many experience points as you want. So my chick can be a solid mage and also happen to have the ability to unlock doors at the same time; though we are missing a trap disarmer, so I tend to stick Dorfy McDorfDorf into the firing line because he can take that shit.
I also acquired some less low-cut attire for the ladies, but then my Amazon warrior woman ended up in a side-quest and now has better armour than everyone else and only she can wear it. Grumble grumble.
At least my main character is soaking up some super-bad-ass armour from the main quest. I was ecstatic when I read “you can cast spells while wearing this”, because I was all “at last, my mage chick won’t get totally pasted when an enemy looks at her”, then it turned out that only he could wear that shit.
You really can’t win. The equipment system is pretty slick on the whole, though. While there are slots for both upper and lower legs, for example, high boots will stop you from wearing knee-plates and vice versa; whereas you can get low boots and squeeze some more armour out of the whole setup. Same goes for the arms, and the main chestplate is more often than not a chainmail device that adds some bonus armour to your appendages without disrupting other clothes. Plus the usual helmet, two rings, neck…
Another tip: don’t sell hairpins. I spent a considerable amount of time wondering why with the “pick locks” talent maxed I was totally unable to get into anything. It turned out that an unaided pick incurs a -10 penalty (that’s a lot), so now I’m using the hairpins the locks are all disintegrating before me. I had assumed that they were some kind of tool ingredient, like the rusty nails and animal sinews I keep harvesting from dead enemies.
It also keeps reminding me of Shakespeare. The currency is the Ducat, broken down into the Thaler and then the Farthing (don’t worry, it keeps them all in one pile and does all the conversion for you). So I keep going around thinking of lines like “Dead for a ducat, dead!” and “oh, I am slain!” But that’s no bad thing, I’m sure.
I should probably stop talking, I think you’re quite aware of my feelings for this game by now.
The verdict, then. After a few days of play have allowed the initial gloss to wear off and let the truth sink in.
I FUCKING LOVE DRAKENSANG. BUY IT NOW.